Medical All-Stars, Part 5

James McInerney, MD, 
Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgeon, Penn State Health, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center

Dr. James McInerney loves it when patients cleared of their Parkinson’s disease tremors tell him, “You know what? I’m going out for lunch, and I’m going to order soup.”

“It’s huge,” he says. “We take that stuff for granted. For them, that’s the victory – to be able to order soup or have a cup of coffee without burning themselves.”

McInerney is an all-star for taking medicine to new frontiers. Among the procedures he performs is Deep Brain Stimulation, a technique that implants a device regulating the effects of such conditions as Parkinson’s, epilepsy and even OCD.

“We have many patients we make a lot better,” he says. “Unfortunately, in medicine, that often is not the case. You can make a difference, but you don’t really see that dramatic improvement in their lives. That’s what gets me up every day, the fact that we have this great opportunity to make people better.”

He served as a U.S. Army physician for 20 years, including deployment to Iraq. When people thank him for his service, he diverts credit to the service men and women “doing all the hard work.”

After completing 20 years in the service “but only active duty for five or six,” McInerney was recruited by Dr. Robert Harbaugh, Hershey Medical Center chief of neurosurgery/Penn State Neuroscience Institute director, to build a stereotactic and functional services department.

“I saw this as not just an opportunity for me but a need for the patients,” he says. “The support of many, many people go into building a successful practice like this.”

Neurosurgery today is vastly different than the field he originally entered, and he strives to stay on top of developments. His wife, Jane, is “without question, the person who makes everything I do possible.” With their four kids, ages 13 to 22, they get outdoors whenever possible. Vacations often take them to National Parks, “where we can work out our bodies and minds.”

Teaching residents keeps him in touch with young doctors who “constantly challenge you to do more and do better.” He believes the rising costs of health care will be fixed someday because everyone wants medicine to continue helping people lead longer, better lives.

“We’re attracting great people to the field who get that and understand the sacrifices on their part that it requires,” he says. “That’s where we’re going, and I think it’s only going to get better.”